In the Middle of Nowhere (Willow's Journey #1)

Rated 3.81/5 based on 21 reviews
After tragedy rocks her world, fifteen-year-old Willow Flynn tries to find her niche in the ever-cliquey high school world while dealing with her emotionally preoccupied mother, as well as a cute, but sickly boy who strives to mend her broken heart, while far away, on an island, in the middle of nowhere. But will he be able to, especially when his own existence remains so uncertain? More
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About Julie Ann Knudsen

I received my B.S. degree in Technical Writing from Clarkson University, but found that I preferred writing creatively, especially after penning the play for my children's drama club for many years. I live with my husband and three children in Connecticut.

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Reviews

Review by: Luigi Cascone on July 26, 2016 :
the composition is good, the characters quite likeable but there are too many corny and unintersting things.
(review of free book)
Review by: Jennifer Ricketts on Dec. 5, 2012 :
I signed up to review this book through the ARR program at Goodreads. I received a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

I really empathized with Willow, the main character, and the awkward relationship she had with her mother. Losing a parent is a terrible experience, which I have gone through myself, and I know that's why I related to Willow a lot. On top of dealing with the loss of her father, she ends up having to move away to a new house and a new school with new people surrounding her. It's tough enough to be the new kid at school, but with grief compounding that already difficult situation, well, I think she handled herself very maturely, more maturely than I would have.

Willow doesn't seem to be able to catch a break, either, because not long after the move, her mother ends up dating a coworker when she begins working at the school Willow's brother attends. Willow is understandably resentful and feels like her mother is replacing her father, which is definitely how many kids who have really gone through this would feel. Willow's brother was so busy playing video games, which I believe was his way of coping with the loss of his father, that he seemed to be more accepting of the new man in their mother's life than Willow was.

Willow meets Michael at school, and even if I hadn't known from the synopsis that he has a serious illness, I would've been able to tell just by reading about him. Sometimes I was frustrated and didn't understand why Willow couldn't see that Michael wasn't being reclusive on purpose, but then I think about her age and the fact that once you lose someone so important in your life it's really difficult to form new relationships with others for the fear that you might lose them, too.

I really liked the relationship between the two of them. They formed a bond that was unusual, and the author did a great job slowly growing them together over the course of the book. It wasn't a typical romance; it was quite different with no sappy moments, and I was happy with its uniqueness. Without a doubt, this is a book I'd like to read again, and I'm looking forward to seeing what stories come next from the author.
(reviewed 5 months after purchase)
Review by: Diane Kim on Sep. 5, 2012 :
I kind of liked this book, I mean I liked the relationship between the characters, but not much of the main character. I didn't really like the way Willow acted when she was with her friends. I feel like that she should have done something more positive, possibly with Michael.
I just kept on reading because of his character, and how I wanted to find out if Willow and Michael ever ended up together for real. But anyways, I liked their relationship. And, overall, I liked how the novel was really detailed and explained every small content. I just like books that have lots of details in it, but only with some book;)
(reviewed 37 days after purchase)
Review by: Michelle McRoberts on Aug. 29, 2012 :
This was a well-written story about a girl who stumbles into trouble simply because she is still too disillusioned with life after the death of her father and the upheaval her family faced after his death. The situations and events in the story are realistc situations a girl in high school might face - from ending up at a party and ending up so drunk she doesn't remember the events that are chronicled in the resulting photos to getting caught sneaking out to meet friends when she was supposed to be babysitting her brother.

The love story is sweet and touching, but begs more development. This book seems to need some fleshing out in the middle and the burgeoning relationship could only benefit from including another 50 to 100 pages. I like the author's voice; it is clear and honest and represents the groups present in high schools pretty accurately.

The only thing I thought was out of place was the swiftness with which a relatively good girl took steps that would have previously been out of character if not for the influence of the lonely rich girl she befriends.
(reviewed 25 days after purchase)
Review by: Elle on Aug. 22, 2012 :
In the Middle of Nowhere is a story about learning to overcome lose, it’s a story about learning to open up and letting go.

I was really looking forward to reading this book. When I first found it I was excited, it seemed really interesting, and then I was lucky enough to get a copy of it from the author to review. I was so happy! I was looking forward to losing myself in Willow’s life story and how hers and Michael’s love started. But things didn’t go quite as planned.

Willow. Willow Flynn is the new girl in town, or maybe the new girl in the… island. Whatever. After losing her father in a tragic accident at a very young age, and in a way losing her mother at that moment too, Willow is somewhat disenchanted with life. She’s closed off to the best things life has to offer. She’s the new girl; she has no friends, a little brother that only cares about video games and a completely absent mother.

On one of her first days at her new school she notices a boy staring at her. She tries to ignore him, she looks away, embarrassed. But before the period is over that same boy sends her a cryptic message.

And then he’s gone. He doesn’t show for school for weeks, and against her better judgment, Willow starts wondering about Michael, the mysterious boy that disappeared. She asks a few people about him but no one seems to care about him, or the fact that he might be seriously ill. What’s left to do? Investigate online.

She finds him through one of her social networks, and having previously refused his friendship invitation she feels bad. But her curiosity (and maybe a little bit of worry) gets the better of her and she sends him a request back.

They chat online a few times, and then through the phone. But after one evening –when Michael shows up at her house uninvited (that doesn’t end particularly well) –he disappears again. And she seems to forget all about him.

Willow makes a lot of mistakes through the book, and while that might be okay, considering she’s a teenager and all, I still did not appreciate her giving in to her “friends” pressure. Doing drugs and drinking just because she didn’t want to seem naïve and inexperienced, just didn’t sit well with me. If anything, she passed as even more naïve by doing so.

Maybe you can say that I didn’t like Willow very much. I didn’t like that she kept giving in, I didn’t like that she forgot about Michael so easily, I didn’t like that she seemed pretty shallow sometimes. Of course she was strong, and maybe by doing reckless things she was just trying to be a teenager again, considering that her mother had her as a personal babysitter all the time. Yet, I couldn’t really connect with her character. I rarely felt anything for her.

Michael is another story.

Michael Cooper is the reason I kept reading this book. He’s mysterious, maybe a little creepy sometimes, but he’s sweet and pretty straight forward. He’s not afraid to speak his mind and let Willow know how he feels, and I loved that about him. Well, most of the time it’s the poet in him speaking and it can get a bit cheesy, just a warning to those that can’t stand cheesy I guess (he is worth it, though). But sadly we learn little to nothing about Michael in this book, nothing much other than that he’s sick and a little bit about his family. I wish the author had given us more insight into his life. I wish the author had given us more Michael overall.

And then we have the secondary characters. We have Erica and Taylor, Willow’s new friends, who I despised. Wait, they were okay but their constant worry about appearances got in my nerves. Then there’s Tessa. Tessa wasn’t much of a friend of Willow’s, but they did spend a lot of time together, mostly doing things they shouldn’t. It was clear that all Tessa wanted was to get her parents’ attention, she needed someone to rely on and she found that in Willow. I liked her, she didn’t hide who she was for appearance’s sake.

Last but not least is Willow’s mother. I didn’t like this woman one bit, in fact I was pretty close to hating her. She was neglecting her kids, she was drowning in sorrow instead of trying to let go of her husband and take care of her children. And she does, she moves on but she does so because she found someone else, and while that’s okay, she has a right to find love again, it’s not okay to pay more attention to your new boyfriend instead of your kids? Hell no!

What angered me the most was that she asked Willow to babysit all the time, but then she would say things like: “You can go out on Saturday, Willow, I can babysit James for you.” And I would stare at the page and think: No, you can’t fucking babysit James because you are his fucking mother! You know what I mean? Babysit! *SNORT* Woman, it’s your job to take care of your kid, no his older sister’s!

That’s probably a small thing that most people can overlook, but I couldn’t. Her mother was getting on my nerves so much I couldn’t stand to see her. Sure, she redeemed herself at the end, but it was a little too late for me.

Oh, there was also her mother’s boyfriend. He wasn’t much on the picture, but the few times he talked to Willow he seemed to be threatening her. The girl lost her father! She was not going to react well to a stranger trying to fill that role. [I actually found myself hoping he was really cheating on her mother so she could find out and get rid of him. Sadly to me he wasn’t. (hide spoiler)]

But all in all In the Middle of Nowhere was an easy read. When I started reading it went smoothly, before I knew it I was already half way through. Yet I couldn’t help but feel like there was something missing (hence the rating). I don’t want to be cliché, but it was missing a spark. Something that props you forward and makes you want to know more.

Michael was that spark for me, but he was so rarely in the book. In fact he was almost not there at all. I missed him, and I found myself reading only to see if he would show up.

The end was probably what I loved the most. I was actually tearing up. Michael was breaking my heart. It was one of the only moments that I felt a connection with the characters. It was heartbreaking and sweet at the same time.

In the Middle of Nowhere is probably a book for younger readers, readers that can overlook things I couldn’t (like Willow’s mother) and truly enjoy the story, for it really is sweet and sometimes endearing.

I hear that there might be a sequel to come, so I’m looking forward to reading it. It is definitely worth a try, since I’m excited to see how the relationship between Willow and Michael will turn out.
(reviewed 40 days after purchase)
Review by: Emily Reid on Aug. 14, 2012 :
I don't often give 5*'s but i was hooked on this story from start to finish. The story was well written and the characters were easy to love.
At first I was unkeen on Michael but it didn't take long for me to love him. I was unsure of Tessa, one minute I'd hate her, then I would love her, then hate her again.
By the end of the book i was nearly crying along with Willow.
I can't wait for the sequal.
(reviewed 35 days after purchase)
Review by: deanna kinney on Aug. 6, 2012 :
This story was very enjoyable, although slow at times. I had wished there would be slightly more action as the story seemed to be mostly about Willow's walk through her school day and lots of sleeping. I also didn't quite understand her anger toward her mother over a new boyfriend. I would've understood had it been a short time after her father's death but it had been 5 years and her mother was clearly sad. I would think Willow would like seeing her mother happy again. But perhaps that's just me. I also was slightly frustrated at her choices. If she got in trouble while hanging with Tessa then why would she go with her again?

Having said that, however, I thoroughly enjoyed the story and Michael was adorable. Good job Julie Knudsen.
(reviewed 22 days after purchase)
Review by: Phoebe Morakinyo on Aug. 1, 2012 :
Right from the beginning, I loved the front cover and design taken up throughout the book (chapter design as well since I got this on kindle). The picture and the title practically yelled how the story went.

It took me a while to read this book, mostly because I got it as a review giveaway, along with a bunch of other books. I had too many books to read and review, since they were all so tempting. Even though I told myself getting so many was stupid, I just couldn't help myself, like a child standing in front of a candy shop, I just had to walk in. Having to balance that with my compulsion to internet surf, read manga, talk to people and keep other commitments (like watching my beloved Teen Wolf) I had to hurry to finish this book the day before the deadline. Well, time to get on with it...

I can't classify this novel as Contemporary, though it says so on my blog label, but it felt different from me, a striking difference to other books. Maybe I'm not used to the genre yet, but this book felt like a fresh yet explainable idea.

Continuing on, I will be discussing this novel in four stages (since right now I'm obsesed with order):

Plot
Character
Romance
Writing


Plot

The base storyline was both creative and entertaining. I loved how the author threw in her ideas to carve a story like this. However, (I'm not sure whether this is a good or bad thing) the plot was circular around Willow, and most of the few sub-plots I noticed in the first half of the story had a strong connection to Willow.


Willow's breakdown over her mom's growing life was an interesting and emotional twist that added to the attractiveness of the story. I was sympathetic to her all the way through that ordeal, but did wish Michael had gotten more involved around this part of the novel.

Unfortunately, big events weren't always thoroughly stressed. Some things were easily forgotten because the author did not repeat them the way they could have been. (I can't give examples for fear of giving away massive plot twists but please send me a message if you want to know what I mean).

Characters

The author's ideas for characters were interesting and worth paying attention to. However, the characters were not always sent across properly. The author described who they were and didn't let us see what they did. Unfortunately, the author took prioritising her characters to an extreme. For example, compared to other characters around Willow's age, Tessa and Jacques were highly developed. This proved to show inconsistencies in the strength of her characters.

There was also the problem of how a teenage essence was not fully carried across (though this book was involved in a lot of growing up). Her age seemed slightly unstable and unsure, though I could tell she was a teenager.

As I started reading the book, I began to feel a forbidden emotion for Tessa. I get that as the novel begins she's supposed to be the meanie, but she was the kind of character that made me smile. (Sorry, can't help it). During the first few chapters where she played a part, Willow, our main character, began to annoy me when it came to Tessa. She seemed kind of judgemental and took Tessa's words the wrong way. Saying "That sucks." after someone tells you about their tragic lifestyle is not offensive. I mean, what exactly is she supposed to say? But of course, around the end, I felt a lot of pity for her. It was sad to watch how she tried to function without basic family needs.

There were times when Willow’s character came across as whining and ungrateful. The best example was her birthday ordeal. At first, when everyone cancelled on her, it was completely understandable for her to be pissed and upset, but when she began to claim that it ‘ruined’ her birthday, it became annoying and less relateable. This could have been solved if she got over it the next day, but she was still complaining, even after her brother and mother came home with 16helium balloons and a chocolate cake. If I got that for my birthday, I’d be screaming with happiness, yet she still complained about being all alone. For goodness sake, you are not alone! She has a right to be u[pset over her situation, but overreacting makes you annoying and unrelatable.

There were also other times when she came across as annoying. She did not stick up for her friends as she should have, and she tended to treat them as if she didn't really care about what they were saying. With Tessa for instance, at times she treated Tessa really badly without even acknowledging it. Other times, she'd treat her supposed 'best friends for life' from her old neighbourhood, as if their problems were minuscule compared to her own. (Such as when they were having an argument over a guy and Becca felt as if she were caught in the middle). However, some strategically placed sarcastic character-oriented sentences made her quirky and interesting.

Continuing on with the however, at times Willow proved to have spunk. Like when Brian gave her that little threat, what she called being 'indignant' was what I called sticking up for herself. I had to root for her then, I would be severely disappointed in myself if I didn't, though I did wish Willow spoke to her mom as soon as she found things out.

Then there’s her family. Her totally piss-taking family. For a second, I had to wonder if her mom was blind not see the way her daughter felt about Brian. It was pretty obvious she didn’t want him around, yet she still chose to invite him to her daughter’s birthday. Honestly, that was just cruel. (I admit this bit is more a rant than a flaw in the novel). Though, I guess I can't be angry at her considering the way things turned out in that particular chapter.


Brian... I never trusted Brian, and I kept wishing Willow would do something about him as she made discoveries about who he really was. His personality though was perfectly placed and fit into the story easily. There was something completely natural (but jarring nonetheless) about how the author fit him in.

Down to her friends. Near the middle of the book, I discovered that I totally hated but understood Erica and Taylor's judgemental behaviour towards Tessa. It showed a slice of how people generally act when it comes to judging people they do not know.

Honestly, getting off point, I liked Jacques and wished he wasn't stoned all the time. He could have made a great male lead in another book with his cheerful and slightly goofy personality.

Okay, problem time. There were times when the author seemed to be so busy making the novel dramatic that she forgot to keep the characters in shape. Michael's mom for instance. A lot of the things she did were said, not done, and her emotions weren't properly expanded on. Really important moments weren't given out properly. (I'll expand on this later).

Romance

I have to admit, Michael was pretty darn awesome. Though he was strange (not that I'm complaining) and there were chunks of the novel where he was virtually none existent I loved him (though unfortunately, he did dim my care for Willow and made her less likable with is ever encompassing awesomeness). I found even myself getting butterflies from some of the things he said. Like once, when he said:

"I know, but I still wanted to see you." Michael brushed a wisp of hair from my forehead and let is fingers linger. "I needed to see you," he leaned in closer, "to touch you."

I think my heart stopped at that bit. Why do I find that so hot?

Going on, when I found out about his 'situaton,' it actually made me sad. Half of me wishes the author hadn't added that detail, while the other realises that's how the world works, and it's almost endearing to give it to one of the most important characters.

There was also the way the author wrote about Michael, which made it almost feel like I was Willow, having a crush on him, liking him but not sure it I could trust him (maybe that's just me being paranoid), yet grieving over every chance we missed to be together. I can say at least one thing: Julie Ann Knudsen can definitely write romance.


However, as the novel went along, the way the author ignored us during Michael and Willow's crucial bonding time was both understandable and frustrating. At times it felt like the author had laid a rock foundation but had left large pits and attempted to cover them with blocks of Styrofoam. It didn't provide enough safety when it came to readers loving her book. This goes back to the situation of saying and not doing.

Writing


This book was one of those novels where the author failed at using the first person to describe her main character's appearance without making her less likable. There are also moments when things were laid down a bit thick to the reader, with too much procrastination.


There was also the case of the author treating first person like third person. If Willow was in such a daze she didn't hear her friend speak, then it shouldn't be written before she pays attention. Her friend could repeat the question after Willow says, "What?" or something like that.

I liked how the author wielded the problem of her mother changing. However, a lot of the tragedies were not written in a classic emotional style. The act and the story were there but at times the emotion was M.I.A.

This book seemed like it was meant to teach the readers a lesson. However, it seemed to give a more vantage point view due to the writing style. The main character wasn't as relatable as other main character's in this genre usually are. However this style was encouraging as the reader sat by and watched with a cinematic view, (now that I think about it, this book was a lot like a romantic movie, Julie Ann should try her hand at playwrighting) judging her actions. So, this book was unique when it came to how it spoke to the reader. This style was risky and kind of subjective to how the reader saw it, especially during peer pressure involved situations. Essentially, I hated some things, but they were par to the story so I couldn't really complain.

Though the 'cinematic view' the author gave us was interesting, it came with it's flaws. The author had a tendency to write the story play by play with a hint of a third person style thrown in for like. I'd like to continue reading her works in first person, but several flaws came with it, such as once, she said: "My big blue eyes got bigger." That can be used, but using it twice reaches the borderline of dangerous writing.

I admit, around the end I got scared (black dress, black sandals, what was I supposed to think?) but the novel ended up finishing beautifully, without ripping my heart out. It was the best ending the book could have had, and it gave even me butterflies

All in all, I was condescending when I started this book, but ended up discovering something I didn't expect as it felt like, I went on the journey with Willow, discovering what she'd always been missing and realising that I absolutely adore this book.

Quirky bits

This book thought me something about dry cleaning

Oh, by the way, God can't die (Something Willow said)

Willow and Julie have the same middle name!


Thank you for reading :)

For more reviews, check out my blog: heartbeatpom.blogspot.co.uk
(reviewed 20 days after purchase)
Review by: Hazel G on July 30, 2012 :
Simple but moving! A story of family and love...

The Review:
I liked this book and though it got some low ratings I went in with an open but cautious mind. The story was touchingly sweet yet very sad in some places and bright in others. The emotional facet of the book was strong however it was seemed slow to start and somewhat stalled in the middle.

It follows a year in the life of Willow Flynn as she tries to start over in a new life with her mother and brother after the tragic death of her father and the loss of her mother's employment. Her family life is strained as she feels alone, seeking out new friends, not all of which are healthy or wise choices and coping with her distracted mother and game obsessed younger brother. Everyone is trying to deal with the loss and new situation in their own way and not all those ways are constructive.

Where the story seems to stall is where Willow is going through her weekly routine of school, homework, checking her online page or sleeping. She does have the occasional adventurous night out which always lands her trouble of some sort and her budding relationship with Michael is captivating but I wished there had been more.

Michael is established in the very beginning of the book and makes a very charming introduction, making the reader notice him immediately. I was instantly intrigued and wanted to know more about him but we don't see much of him until the last few chapters because he is out of Willow's social circle due to his illness. I wished the author had of spent more time constructing his and Willows relationship. I would have loved to see them do more together.

The theme of the story was very well done! By the end of the book I was an emotional wreck and was skittish to read the last few pages because I was scared of what the ending would hold. The tension between Willows family was well played out and her character growth from beginning to end was noticeable.

The Wrap Up:
All in all, there were amazing parts and there were slow parts. This story was a tale of love, life, death and teen angst.. hard lessons, ugly truths and the beauty when you let yourself compromise and open yourself to love. I really wish there had been more events to carry this story forward and more development of the love interest, Michael because that's what I felt was at the heart of this story. It just wasn't explored thoroughly, but I do get where the author was trying to take the story and I liked it nonetheless. I'd definitely suggest this book to anyone wanting an emotionally well written but quick read. And I'd be most interested to see a second book with these characters because in no way has their story ended.

NOTE:: I read this as a R2R with We ' YA Books! from Goodreads. As always, a special thank you to the mods and author for allowing me to participate.
(reviewed 21 days after purchase)
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